Mental and physical toughness are required to play for a championship-caliber basketball program like Buford High School’s. Seniors Kirby Wallis and Taylor Romano have taken different paths and faced different types of adversity on and off the court, but both are making an impact on the girls varsity basketball team.
Kirby’s basketball journey the past four years has been filled with one road bump after another, but those obstacles have never stopped her. She has overcome a major injury every season. Before she even started high school, Kirby tore her ACL. She got her tooth knocked out just weeks before state in 2020. The years that followed were not any kinder as she has dealt with a concussion, a torn ACL and a torn hamstring. Through physical therapy and sheer determination, Kirby is finally back to play with her teammates as Buford makes its run into the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.
“For her to be able to play on this year’s team is an incredible testimony of how mentally and physically tough Kirby is,” says Gene Durden, head coach of Buford’s girls basketball team. “I am so happy to see her in the Kelly and Gold of Buford and have nothing but respect for her to continue to lead this team through her example.”
Kirby is the last of the players from the 2020 state championship team still in the program. That year was the last time Buford brought home a state title in girls basketball.
“She understands the dedication and commitment it takes to be a championship caliber player and the qualities it takes,” Durden says.
Taylor has represented Buford for the past two years after making the move to the area from Boca Raton, Florida, just before her junior year. The move was difficult on Taylor. She struggled to adjust to not only a new city but a new school and a new team.
“Any time you come into our program either from another school or from our middle school, it is a total transition,” Durden says. “Taylor came from another school in Florida her junior year and had to adjust to a totally different culture and environment. She did have a hard time at first. Kudos to her for having the mindset to change and trust our process.”
Both girls have made an impact on the program and have different roles. Their playing styles are completely different as well.
“I think this year especially, my role is to try and maintain our culture and lead as much as possible,” Kirby says. “Another role I have had to take on is the motherly one, but I love it. This role has made me form so many more relationships with younger players and they know they can come to me for anything.”
Kirby’s style of play is aggressive, and she has no problem getting into the thick of the action, which could explain how she got a tooth knocked out just before her team played in the 2020 state championship game.
“Kirby brings toughness and a relentless nature of playing hard that is quite hard to find in today’s players,” Durden says.
Taylor has stepped up and embraced her leadership role as a senior player. She says her role on this year’s team is to be an “encourager.”
“Taylor is such a free spirit and has truly helped me grow as a coach to make the connection and relationship to build trust in our process to help her make a difference for our program and this team,” Durden says.
Watching the girls play, it is easy to spot Taylor. She has an uncanny ability to sink shots most would miss. This skill has helped Buford have a successful season and will be invaluable going forward toward the goal of winning a state championship.
“Taylor is the definition of a pure shooter,” Durden says. “She has a shooter’s mentality and thinks the ball is going in on every shot she takes. This sounds easy, but this mentality is very hard to find in basketball players. Just her ability to shoot the ball helps open up the floor for other players to have space to make plays.”
While both girls have taken different roads to get to this moment in time, they both see the bigger picture and the finish line. They do not play for themselves. They play for their teammates and they play for their love of the school, for “The B.”
“I take pride in wearing ‘The B’ and green and gold,” Kirby says. “Buford is built around success and all the people that have come through have had a part in that. I wear it for all the girls that have played before me, especially my sister.”
Kirby’s sister Blair Wallis was a part of the Buford girls basketball team until she graduated in 2021. During that time, the Buford girls basketball team won three of its four consecutive state championships. The Wallis sisters played together in the 2020 state championship year.
You can catch the Buford girls basketball team on Tuesday evening, Feb. 28 when they play in the GHSA Class AAAAAAA State Girls Basketball Elite Eight at the Buford Arena.
FEATURED PHOTO: Buford seniors Taylor Romano and Kirby Wallis both have the mental toughness and skills to help lead Buford in their quest for another state championship. Photo by Alicia Payne